School-aged kids across Texas and Oklahoma are relishing in the final days of summer, completely unaware of the cutting-edge renovations taking place in their local school cafeterias. Eagle Mountain-Saginaw Independent School District (“EMS”) Child Nutrition Director Aaron Wylie has been working his magic all summer transforming several of his antiquated campus cafeterias into stylish, cheery places where EMS students and faculty can relax and chow down during their lunch breaks. Wylie has shown a successful history of renovating spaces leads to an increase in participation, which then leads to more profit, which he has been able to reinvest into his schools.
“There was a time when you put food in front of a kid, and he would eat anything. But today’s kids are savvy consumers, their parents take them out to a variety of restaurants, and they have more refined tastes,” observes Wylie. Knowing the evolving palates of kids and constantly changing food trends, Wylie and his team of top-notch dieticians and supervisors challenge themselves daily to create unique flavors, which can be a challenge within the USDA guidelines, he notes.
In the child nutrition department, not getting phones calls from parents - not getting complaints - means that his dietician Meghan Martinson is putting together recipes that kids enjoy. “It is nice to get compliments, but in child nutrition, you are just not going to get those compliments from parents,” states Wylie. So, for Wylie, if his students are content and happy he knows his team is managing the menus and appetites of the students with success.
DID YOU SAY SPAGHETTI TACOS?
Child nutrition today must evolve as quickly as a teenager switches from a carnivore to a plant-based diet, and Wylie’s team is constantly trying out new recipes and experimenting with the fusion of flavors. After some peer to peer brain storming EMS rolled out the spaghetti taco which became wildly popular with the students. Wylie will also try out menu items that he discovers in his own kitchen. “I was making sriracha rice at home one night and wanted to give it a try at work,” says Wylie. EMS now offers a traditional rice bowl and spicy rice bowl where sriracha is added to the boiling water.
INNOVATION LEADS TO HIGHER PROFITS
Wylie has expanded his nutritional reach beyond the cafeteria by providing catering services within EMS and he has opened several coffee Bistro concepts in his schools and the District’s administration building. The huge success of these non-traditional outlets under the child nutrition umbrella has given him extra resources to reinvest and spend more money on the food, thus creating better experiences for the students. The opportunity to add higher quality foods plays directly into how Wylie sees the future of child nutrition. Parents are more mindful than ever of what their kids are eating, and they want and expect freshness and quality, and that responsibility is in the hands of Wylie and his team.
FROM 100,000 HUNGRY FANS TO FEEDING TODAY’S YOUTH
It’s no surprise that Wylie, an avid sports fan, started his career in hospitality working for Aramark in concessions at Reliant Stadium (now NRG Stadium), in his native Houston. “It was a fun job, I had a blast!” reflects Wylie. Then the birth of his son Austin, followed by daughter Alexis, made him realize the long hours weren’t fitting into his and his wife, Marisa’s, family plan. Wylie transferred within Aramark to a position at Goose Creek ISD, and then relocated to North Texas with a position at Northwest ISD. After more than 10 years with Aramark, Wylie took the leap to become a self-operator and accepted the Director position at EMS.
Wylie, with his outrageously fun personality and boundless energy, takes his quality of life and that of his staff as one of his main missions as Director. “You spend eight hours a day with your peers I want it to be a family atmosphere,” says Wylie. “They aren’t just your employees they truly are your friends,” he adds.
Wylie highly values and loves the balance of life his career in child nutrition offers him and his family. He strives to encourage his staff to find the same balance of work and play. You will find Wylie coaching Austin in baseball, attending Alexis’ dance recitals or sliding into home during one of his own softball games. But don’t worry; if you find sports a bore, Wylie will be happily to grab a cold craft beer and discuss the finer points of smoking meats. A true BBQ connoisseur, Wylie puts on a full-fledged delicious BBQ dinner for the EMS Board of Directors each year!
YOUR COMMITTED PARTNER IN EXCELLENCE
Within a few weeks of starting at EMS, Wylie inherited a serving line project. Enter the Chrane gang and Mod-U-Serve to the rescue! Wylie recalls that he knew the brand Mod-U-Serve from his days at Reliant Stadium; he worked with their kiosks and knew it was a solid, durable piece of equipment. When Chrane presented the serving line side of Mod-U-Serve, Wylie immediately started up a relationship of his own with Mod-U-Serve, of which he was already familiar and loved that it was Texas-made in Houston.
Wylie and EMS have partnered with several of Chrane’s manufacturers, integrating Cambro insulated transport systems and Winston food holders in his cafeterias. Wylie works with numerous vendors from food brokers to equipment manufacturers, and he looks to these folks not only for premium quality solutions but also inspiration and support.
“Everyone wants to make the sale but seeing the sale through and providing post sale support is essential,” believes Wylie. Wylie praises Chrane’s post sale support, stating it’s some of the best in the industry. “I know when I call Chrane I trust any one of the employees to help me,” he states. The passion of Chrane, their customer service and excellent support keeps Wylie and his team returning to Chrane and their manufacturers.
HANGING WITH THE CHRANIACS
Wylie laughs when he thinks of fun times with Chrane employees at industry events such as his own EMS Scholarship Fund Golf Outing.“You know playing golf with Chrane probably won’t win you any trophies, but it is going to be a wildly fun adventure!”Another memorable escapade was when Wylie attended the School Nutrition Association Annual National Conference in Boston, and he found himself in a water taxi with Chrane folks heading to a night out at the Barking Crab. It’s safe to say we’ll just let those stories stay in the bottom of the Boston Harbor!
Chrane’s successes lie in the creative, progressive – and passionate - hands of customers like Wylie. With his trust, Chrane and EMS will be renovating cafeterias and modernizing the student lunch experience for many schools’ years to come.